- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2022

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The 2024 presidential election launched Tuesday from the chandelier-lit grand ballroom at Mar-a-Lago, where former President Donald Trump announced a third bid for the White House amid a divided Republican Party.

“In order to make America great and glorious again, I am announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Mr. Trump said to a cheering crowd of supporters from a stage adorned with U.S. flags.

He pitched a unified movement to restore America, which he said will be built on “issues, vision and success.”

Mr. Trump told the crowd that he will need support from a broad coalition, from grandmothers to police officers, who can help him win a second term.

“I am running because I believe the nation has not seen the true glory of what we can be. … This will not be my campaign; this will be our campaign,” said Mr. Trump, inviting disaffected Democrats to join his movement. “We love both sides. We are going to bring people together.”

Mr. Trump, 76, defied former campaign aides and even some in his inner circle who hoped the poor showing of Republican candidates in the midterm elections would dissuade him from an early 2024 announcement, or at least until after a critical Dec. 6 Senate runoff in Georgia.

SEE ALSO: Ivanka Trump opts out of father’s 2024 campaign

Mr. Trump framed his White House bid as a chance to redirect America to the successful path it was on before he left office and President Biden took over.

“The world was at peace, America was prospering and our country was on track for an amazing future because I made big promises to the American people, and unlike other presidents, I kept my promises,” Mr. Trump said.

He said the United States could return to success, “but first we have to get out of this ditch.”

The country, he said, “is in a horrible state. … We are in grave trouble.”

Mr. Trump promised to restart American energy production and implement policies to lower inflation and return supply chains and manufacturing to the United States.

Instead of promising to build the wall on the southern border, Mr. Trump said the project needed an addition.

“We are going to restore and secure America’s borders,” he said. “We built the wall, we completed the wall, and now we’ll add to it.”

Mr. Trump got the loudest applause when he attacked the Justice Department and FBI, who opened a fruitless investigation into his purported collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election. The FBI recently raided Mr. Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago, an unprecedented move against a former president that the agency said was necessary to collect classified information that the former president had stored there.

Mr. Trump promised a “top-to-bottom overhaul to clean out the festering corruption of Washington, D.C.”

He said he would propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on congressional lawmakers as well as steps to restore voter confidence, including requiring voter identification, same-day voting and “only paper ballots.”

All ballots should be counted by election night, Mr. Trump said.

He launched his presidential campaign as a slew of ambitious Republican rivals weigh their own White House bids. Among them are his former vice president, Mike Pence, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. One of his most formidable Republican rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is basking in a 20-percentage-point reelection victory.

A YouGov nationwide poll of 1,500 adults released after the election found Mr. DeSantis with a slight edge over Mr. Trump, including among Republicans. The same poll a month ago showed Mr. Trump as the front-runner.

Mr. Trump’s opening salvo was aimed not at his potential Republican challengers but squarely at President Biden. He attacked practically all of the president’s foreign and domestic policies.

Mr. Biden, he said, hurt U.S. energy production, made the country appear weak on the international stage and left the borders open for unchecked illegal immigration that has surged to record levels.

Mr. Trump said in addition to those flaws, Mr. Biden, 79, falls asleep at meetings.

“We are here tonight to declare that it does not have to be this way,” said Mr. Trump, who is 76. “Two years ago, we were a great nation. And soon we will be a great nation again.”

Mr. Trump pushed back against criticism that he was a drag on midterm election tickets. The vast majority of key swing-state endorsements for Senate and governor lost, as did many House candidates.

Mr. Trump said only 22 out of his 232 endorsements did not win and he believes Republicans lost the Senate because voters are not fully feeling inflation, high gas prices and other problems associated with Democratic control.

“The voting will be much different in 2024,” he predicted.

Mr. Trump invited an army of media to cover the event and set them up in an ornate ballroom on the grounds of his luxury resort and residence. Large television screens displayed Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan that fueled his improbable 2016 win, and dozens of television cameras were set up on risers waiting for what Mr. Trump previewed as a “special announcement.”

Steps away from his estate, some of Mr. Trump’s loyal base gathered along a bridge over the intercoastal waterway, They brought large signs and flags supporting the former president. They were thrilled that Mr. Trump planned to announce his 2024 bid.

“Even though we think he’s still our president, he’s running again,” said Debbie Macchia, 58, of Boynton Beach.

Mr. Trump’s announcement will put him slightly ahead of an ambitious field of Republican rivals.

Mr. Pence, who launched his book, “So Help Me God,” on Tuesday, the same day as Mr. Trump’s big announcement, said he is considering running and will participate in a town-hall-style event on CNN on Wednesday. He has begun to criticize his former boss and told ABC News that he predicts there will be “better choices” than Mr. Trump on the 2024 ballot.

Mr. Pompeo may also get into the race, as well as Mr. DeSantis. Conservative media have crowned Mr. DeSantis a rising Republican star after he won his reelection bid last week by a historic 20 percentage points.

Mr. Trump drew criticism even from his staunchest media allies for lashing out at Mr. DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another rising Republican.

Floridians who love Mr. Trump also back Mr. DeSantis, 44, and his growing popularity could pose a serious threat to Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican primary base. Mr. Trump launched a preemptive strike on Mr. DeSantis this month by labeling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Ms. Macchia said if Mr. DeSantis runs for president, she would have a hard time choosing between the two.

“It’s a hard question,” Ms. Macchia said. “I guess I’ll have to wait and see.” She called Mr. DeSantis “the best governor the state has ever seen” and suggested that Mr. Trump should choose him as his running mate.

Janet Thomson, 59, who was also stationed on the bridge, said she wants Mr. Trump to run alongside a woman, perhaps Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, or conservative media star Candace Owens.

“I believe Trump should have a female vice president,” Ms. Thomson said.

A motorboat pulled up under the bridge, its topside decked out in U.S. and Trump flags, and dropped anchor in view of Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Trump’s detractors also made a showing. A small yellow plane flying back and forth over the estate dragged a banner with a stern message: “You lost again Donald! #DeSantis 2024.”

Mr. Trump launched his campaign amid polling that shows voters have mixed feelings. Pro-DeSantis groups are pushing polling that shows the Florida governor leading Mr. Trump in several of the states that will vote first in the 2024 Republican primary, including Iowa and New Hampshire.

His detractors are unlikely to dissuade Mr. Trump. In most hypothetical primary polling, he has come out ahead by double digits, even over Mr. DeSantis, while other Republican candidates barely register with Republican voters, at least for now.

Mr. Trump’s announcement could clash with possible criminal charges that the Justice Department is said to be weighing in connection with his actions to overturn Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory. He is also under investigation for taking classified information from the White House when he left office.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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